Apr 29, 2011

Spring (or planting!) fever

Every year for four years, a group of men and women from Mississippi, Arkansas, Kentucky and Tennessee mark their calendars for one Saturday in April, and agree to meet up at Rita Randolph's greenhouses in Jackson, Tennessee.  We do our best to clean out her inventory (don't worry - she's got plenty more where that came from...we think!), and we giggle and gossip and snatch plants left and right.  After we all tally up our bills (we usually don't compare notes on spending.  What happens at Rita's stays at Rita's), we head over to Casey Jones restaurant to continue the fellowship over a leisurely lunch before reluctantly parting ways.

You may be wondering, WHY?  We all have nurseries and garden centers much closer to our homes - we probably all drove past one or more on our way.  So why drive for hours to this one nursery?  Is it that special?  It's true that Rita has some of the most fabulous container ideas around.  But more than that, it's an excuse to visit and catch up with each other.  Some of the travelers make plans to stay overnight and visit several more nurseries before heading home.  (I've been known to haul unsuspecting passengers through extremely rural parts of Dickson on our way back from Jackson, in search of Marianna's tomato plants.)

You may also be wondering how we know each other.  High school or college? Nope.  Work? Nope.  Sports? Still nope. Church? And no again..  Give up?

What brought us together was a website called Dave's Garden.  Over the years, we've shared gardening tips and tricks, recipes, ideas, and recommendations.  We've also shared stories about our lives, weathered many storms, from Katrina to last year's Tennessee floods, and more tornadoes than we can count.  Always, there's someone in this group making sure everyone in an affected area is okay.  What started out as online acquaintances has deepened into abiding real-life friendships.  I rarely mention my day job here because I try to keep work and blog separate, but I've been privileged to be able to work for this website for several years, as well as be part of this vast but tight-knit community.  What a treat it is to work with and for such a great group.  And get to see some of them at least once a year, and ooh and ahh over gorgeous plants all ready to be tucked into containers to  welcome visitors to our homes and greet us on our decks and back porches.

This year's trip is tomorrow.  And it has an added benefit:  it gives me an opportunity to get away for a day before we start moving next week.  I have already vowed to not buy as many plants as usual, since we're going to be betwixt and between over the week. But those plants have a siren's call that is difficult to ignore.  So I will probably come home with plants a-plenty, as always.  The containers are ready and waiting at the new house.  An advanced thank-you to Rita for her graciousness in letting us use her site for our annual soiree.

Happy planting!

Apr 28, 2011

My house of many colors

I am not a white girl.

Well, I am, but I am not a white-wall girl - I don't think I've ever bought a gallon of white wall paint.


Okay, maybe once when we were renting and I was covering some hideous shade of apricot in the bathroom and white was a safe choice the landlord wouldn't mind me using. 

And a garage or two.

But beyond that? Nope, never, no way, no how.

I love color.  That can't be a surprise, right?  I am a confessed Fiesta fiend, remember?

I've used every color of the rainbow except dark blue and purple to paint walls in one house or another. A range of pinks, reds, yellows, oranges, greens, light blues, and several "safe" neutral shades of taupe and gray have graced our walls over the years.

In our current house, we have 3 bedrooms, 3 bathrooms, 2 living areas, 2 eating areas, a bonus room and a utility room. At last count, our walls sport 3 shades of green, 2 shades of yellow, 1 shade of orange, 1 shade of pink and 1 shade of taupe.

Twelve rooms, nine colors.  And some of them don't play well with others.

The house that nearly captured my heart was painted a toasty taupey color all the way through. Its soothing neutrality was bee-yoo-tee-ful and ultimately, was a huge selling point for me:  it was move-in ready without anyone lifting a paintbrush.

The ultimate "THE" house has twelve rooms - pretty much the same as what we have now (they're just bigger and better arranged) but just six wall colors. And three of them flow and blend to transition nicely from entry to den/kitchen/eating area and into the sunroom. I'm leaving well enough alone in those rooms, and re-coloring only the bedrooms, dining room and bonus room (a bathroom will get a subtle do-over in a different shade of green soon after we move in.)

When I'm done, the house will have picked up a seventh color, but several of the rooms will use the same color: the bonus room and two bedrooms will share the master bathroom's taupe color; the dining room and swimmer girl's bedroom will share a rich mocha brown color.  Her room will get a pop of frosty pink to up the score to seven colors.

I think as I get older, I'm starting to find a better balance between my love of color and my attraction to flow and congruity in a house; instead of using various shades of the same color for these rooms, I picked one taupe and one brown, and I'm making them do double or triple duty. There might be four *perfect* shades of taupe out there, one for each room, but I'm not going to agonize over the colors or mess with repeatedly cleaning out brushes and rollers to move from room to room. And long-term it's a nightmare to sort and store touchup paint when you've got several variations on the same theme sitting around in half-filled gallon paint cans.

And after we move out of our current house, it's getting the taupe treatment - every place except the kitchen and master bathroom, which are staying their same current shades of green. I hope it'll make some buyer's heart go pitter pat to have all that lovely flow of soothing congruence throughout.

Happy painting,

Apr 27, 2011

Recipe of the Week: Peach Oat Muffins

This recipe is late today due to wave after wave of severe weather we're experiencing.  At any rate, I came across this recipe back in the late 1980s.  I remember it caught my eye because I had a surplus of canned peaches I was trying to use up. You can also use fresh peaches in season, especially if you have some that are getting mealy or developing a few soft spots; those that are sweet and delicious, but not the most attractive for serving fresh or eating out of hand.

Peach Oat Muffins

1 can (or 1 pint) or 3-4 fresh peaches, drained
3/4 cup quick cooking or regular oats
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup brown sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/8 teaspoon almond extract
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 egg
1/8 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup milk

Preheat oven to 350.  Spray 6 large or 12 regular muffin tins with cooking spray or line with paper liners. If using fresh peaches, peel and slice. Run half of peaches through a blender to puree, coarsely chop remaining fruit.

Combine fruit puree with all other ingredients in order listed. Stir just until mixed, then fold in chopped fruit. Spoon into muffin tins and bake for 25-35 minutes (time will vary based on size of muffins); or until toothpick comes out clean.

Serve warm.  Makes 6 large or 12 regular muffins.

Happy baking!

Apr 26, 2011

Searching for a good cause?

Most of us would like to find ways to save money on items we buy every day, AND get a little of our purchase price sent to a charity, especially one of our choice, right?  It sounds too good to be true, but it's not.

But let me start off with a disclaimer:  this is entirely my voluntary opinion - no one approached me and asked me for a plug.  I just want to share it in the hopes that more people will take advantage of this little-used tool.

Second disclaimer:  I am a hardcore Google user.  I don't know if they keep track of who uses their search engine the most, but my guess is if they do, I'm on a very short list of people they keep a wary eye on.  On a light day I might run around 100 searches; on a hard-hitting day I can easily run a few thousand - my history logs don't lie.   I almost never bother to type he URL into my browser window, even when I know where I'm going.  So yeah it can be said Google and I are tight.  But it's not a completely exclusive relationship.

As much as I like Google (and generally ignore Yahoo, Bing and every other also-ran search engine), I do have a GoodSearch box on my toolbar.  If you're not aware, GoodSearch and GoodShop's motto is "You Search, We Give."  They've been around for quite a while, they are legit, and they give you flexibility to decide who to give your charitable click monies to.  They run off Yahoo's search (which is not my favorite, but it's pretty handy for basic searches.)

The GoodSearch tool lets you direct donations from your online purchases at places like Amazon, Target and eBay to the charity you choose.  (And you can change charities as often as you wish.)

If you're looking for a charity to help out, our congregation provides office space for a free counseling service called Search For Truth (SFT Awareness.)  Their main sponsor is Burnette Chapel Church of Christ, so I designated them as my charity of choice, and my search pennies would go to help fund this worthy program.

I suspect my Amazon and eBay purchases contribute more to them via the GoodShop program than my search engine clicks, but I figure every little bit helps.

I encourage you to check out GoodSearch.  Adding the search box to your toolbar is easy and free. Remembering to use it is the hard part!  Look up your favorite charity(ies) and see if they're listed, and start clicking.  When you want to purchase anything from a GoodShop participating store, just check to make sure the little alert comes up stating how much of a percentage will go to the charity of your choice, then shop away.

Happy searching!

Apr 25, 2011

Moving: into high gear

I've circled May 6 on the calendar as our targeted move-in date.  Between now and then, there's a lot to do:  painting, putting up window treatments, cleaning and of course moving in and organizing a new home.

How many times do we get to watch someone else agonize to organize? Or see real-life do-overs on rooms, rather than the magical makeover that happens in a single 30-minute segment of HGTV?

Well, here's your chance to peer over our shoulders and watch our progress as we paint and pack, and repeatedly answer the question, "what am I gonna do with THIS?" (whether it be a location that needs a little something, or a something-or-other that needs a spot to call home.)  All those questions of what-goes-where in the new space must be answered.  Your input is - of course - welcome.

So stay tuned. Starting today, bedrooms are changing colors.  Later this week, the dining room is going to get a color transformation, too - red walls and green-ish window treatments are just not me, and definitely not a good backdrop for my violet china or my good dishes.

In the meantime, the bathroom shower has already gone from fiberglass and peeling paint to stud walls:
Later this week, if all goes as planned, it will be finished in tile and stone.  

Next week will be the all-important arranging of the kitchen, moving my beloved Fiestaware, figuring out a new (smaller) pantry system, and generally getting kitchen and bathrooms in working order.  Then there will be decisions on furniture placement for the living areas and bedrooms.

Last but not least is the conversion of the bonus room into a bona fide University of Tennessee man-cave, and picking out a sectional sofa and other accouterments after we get fully moved in.

The scene still makes me shudder...
And at some point, we will have to deal with the wire closet shelving in the closets. (If they were filming Mommie Dearest in 2011, I suspect Faye Dunaway's character would be screaming "no more wire shelving!!!" and worry about those wire coat hangers later.)

Not to mention getting my greenhouse taken down, put back up, and new gardens and plants installed in the landscape here.

Yeah, this is gonna be a fast, furious and fun few days.  Strap in and hang on tight - it could be a bumpy ride but it promises to be a pretty fun adventure!

Happy home-making,

Apr 22, 2011

Masters of destruction

Apparently we can't leave well enough alone, not even for a few minutes.

Yesterday we closed on our new home.  (Happy, happy, joy, joy....)  We celebrated by mowing the grass and pulling weeds all afternoon.

Big dog oversaw our work from her hangout on the porch.

So can you guess what our first action  this morning will be?  (This was planned well in advance, I might add.)  It is not to move in anything, or start cleaning stuff.  Those are way too predictable.

Noooooo, our first to-do is to tear out the shower in the master bathroom.  Mind you, it is a perfectly good shower - it's not leaking, no nasty-funk-I-can't-get-clean, not even some hideous old gold sparkly tile (which we've actually lived with before.)  It is a simple, plain fiberglass shower stall.  Its only defect is it was too short and the backspray from the shower head had peeled away the paint around the top of the stall.  Instead of merely replacing the shower head and fixing the peeling paint, we opted to tear it out.  Because we are really good at tearing stuff up and we had a lot of practice on our last home - there's not much we can't take out.  Putting stuff back...not so much.  But prybars, hammers, chisels - we own 'em and we're not afraid to use 'em.

To our credit, we do have a plan:  we've lined up a contractor and selected the tile we'd like to use.  Hopefully the new shower design will fix the peeling paint problem once and for all...and give us a slightly larger and totally nicer shower in an otherwise gorgeous (and HUGE) bathroom.

When the tear-out is done, all that's left to do today is to have the carpets stretched, take down the old curtain rods and spackle over a few nail holes before Mr. Official heads off to the Friday night race.  We have a wedding to attend on Saturday in LA (Lower Alabama to the uninitiated), and Easter festivities on Sunday.

Starting Monday, work on the new shower stall will begin, while middle child and I are busy wielding paint rollers and brushes.  Five rooms in five days - easy peasy.

THEN we can begin the normal activities one does when one buys a house.  Like moving our possessions in and getting settled.

Happy remodeling!

Apr 21, 2011

Moving: Into the home stretch

If all goes as planned, this afternoon make that late morning, I will skip my Thursday yoga class and we will go from home buyers to home owners as we close the deal on our new abode. After that, I can call it our "home." (I'm not superstitious but there's part of me that just can't make that linguistic leap until the paperwork is completed.)

Almost six months ago (176 days, if I were counting), I blogged about our old house in Oklahoma being for sale, and created my own wishlist for a dream house.  I quipped I might have to start looking, and with that flippant comment, we soon found ourselves semi-seriously hunting for houses.

I would have to say this has been a journey on many levels for me. It's been mostly ups (it's actually pretty fun to look at homes and try to see yourself moving into each one); a few downs (like when we lost out on a house I really really liked).  A lot of time and energy has gone into searching for houses and searching myself for answers:  Why do we (I) want a different house?  Why do we (I) want THIS house?  Is this a wise move for us at this time in our lives?  Am I running toward something good? Or am I running away from something I should stand my ground and face?  Am I strong enough to go through this, given our past experiences with home buying? Those are tough questions to ponder, and they've kept me up a few nights as I wrestled with the answers, and tested my reasons for pushing for a new/different address.  Top of the list was asking for God's guidance and direction, even if it meant accepting an answer of "no" or "not now."

There were a few times in this process I thought about throwing in the towel.  I began to doubt that we would find THE house at the price we were willing to pay, and had started to think about setting a deadline to wave the white flag and call off the search.  But on our way home from our spring break trip, we got the news that the house we had been waiting on the bank to make a decision was ours if we still wanted to pursue it. Did we want it?  Of course we did!

And so now, finally, the day we've been working toward is here.  After today, we'll no longer be hunters or buyers, but owners.  (Soon we hope to be sellers of our current house, but that's another story for another post or two...or ten!)  We hope friends and family will stop by for a visit.  If you want us to REALLY roll out the welcome mat, show up soon with a paint brush or moving dolly or an icy cold drink.  Or just bring yourself and come see us - and the sheep and chickens and horses and cattle and emus.  (And for those who are too far away to schlep over on a whim...some photos are on FB and new ones are coming soon.)

Happy homecomings,

Apr 20, 2011

Recipe of the Week: Strawberry Salad with Pretzel Crust

This salad has made its way to our Easter dinner table more times than I can count. A few years, it's gone soggy with runny jello, but when it comes together correctly, it is a nice combination of crunchy and creamy, salty and sweet. And it's pretty as all get out when nestled in a holiday food spread (it's pretty at Christmas, too.)  I've seen a lot of versions of this popular dessert/salad, but over the years, I've added my own twists to the original recipe, from varying the filling ingredients to making a little extra crumbles for the top.   I hope you'll fix it and enjoy it however you like it!

Strawberry Salad with Pretzel Crust

Crust and topping ingredients:
1 1/2 cup crushed pretzels
1/2 cup melted butter
2 tablespoons sugar

Filling ingredients:
1 8-ounce package cream cheese, softened
1/4 cup sour cream
1 cup whipped cream
1 package strawberry jello
1 cup boiling water
3/4 cup ice cubes
1 pint fresh strawberries, cleaned and sliced or quartered

Whipped topping for garnish

In bowl, mix together the crust ingredients. Set aside 1/3 cup for topping. Place remainder in bottom of 9x9 pan and press firmly. Bake at 375 for 5-10 minutes. Set aside to cool completely.

In mixing bowl, beat cream cheese until fluffy. Fold in sour cream and whipped cream. Smooth on top of crust, making sure it covers completely and all the way to the edges of the pan. (If you don't, the jello will seep under this layer and cause a soggy crust.) Place in refrigerator while preparing jello.

In medium-sized glass bowl, sprinkle jello over boiling water. Stir to completely dissolve. Add ice cubes and stir until cool and ice is nearly melted - quickly remove any remaining slivers of ice (you don't want runny or watery jello.)

Place strawberries on whipped topping/cream cheese layer. Carefully pour slightly thickened jello over top. Refrigerate until ready to serve. At serving time, spread with another thin layer of whipped topping and sprinkle with remaining pretzel mixture. Cut into squares to serve. Makes 9 squares.

Some recipes call for frozen berries, and in the winter that may be the best option.  But I would recommend eliminating the ice cubes and using the frozen berries instead to chill the jello as they will contain some water.  Either way, promptly refrigerate any leftovers and use up within 24-48 hours.  (The crust will get soggy the longer it stays in the refrigerator.)

Happy holidaying!

P.S. A shout out to my mom, since it's her birthday today. Hope it's great!

Apr 19, 2011

A house of cards

When I cleaned out the coat closet, one of the organizers held gobs of new (okay, we'll go with "unused," since some of them are almost vintage) cards. Birthday, mother's and father's day, anniversary, random holiday cards, get-well, congratulations, sympathy cards, thank-you cards, invitations, personalized cards, and blank cards.  All occasion, every occasion, if there's a card for it, I've probably got one.  Somewhere. And this doesn't include the boxes of Christmas cards I gathered up and placed in one of those six tubs that will transfer to the new coat closet.

After the closet cleaning was done, I took that teetering stack of cards and plopped it on my desk. I then dug around in two other hidey-holes I knew of, and came up with even more unused cards. 
I confess: I am a card fiend. Hallmark has my number, and all card stores issue a siren's call I can't seem to resist.  I buy the cutest cards and then I often lay them on my desk where they stay until it's way too late to send them.  I wonder if this is a recognized addiction?  Hopefully this process was a DIY intervention...
The next step was to sort through them and toss any that were wayyy outdated. The remaining cards are now organized so I can rifle through them at a moment's notice and find an appropriate card for the occasion. They are going in a box along with the other select few items destined for my new desk and drawer space.

My promise to myself (which I am making publicly today) is that I will use up these cards first before buying any others. And I will look for opportunities to send a card. (If I spent $2 or $3 on the card, surely I can cough up four bits for a stamp to send it, right?)

Who knows? I might actually meet the goal of sending my Secret Sister at least one card each month this year.

Too bad I didn't find a stack of moving announcements.  Guess I'll just have to break over and order some.  (And uhhhh, SEND them.)

Happy card-ing

Apr 18, 2011

Musical Chairs

The new house has the dining room I have longed for, for like FOREVER - it's big, it has two large windows plus a set of French doors that open to the wraparound porch, wainscoting, high ceiling...the works. In a word - it's perfect.   Except for the paint color, which is red.  Been there, done that.  So the new dining room will get a new color scheme...and new dining room seat cushions.

(Sidenote:  I have found that seat cushions and pillows, like paint, are inexpensive ways to quickly update and rejuvenate a room, especially if you're willing to shop around a bit for your fabric.)

But I should start at the beginning.

My dining room set is mismatched - by choice, if not design.  The art-deco era table belonged to my grandparents. Their homes were tiny and their family was huge.  In their last house, the dining room table was relegated to an enclosed sun porch and used mainly to hold my grandmother's houseplants.  During family gatherings it got a workout serving meals, a space to work on puzzles, play card games, and sit around and gab.  When I got it about 15 years ago, it had a maple finish and was marred with some serious water spots from a roof or plant pot leak.

I refinished the table and applied a fruitwood stain.  I used it and the six accompanying chairs as a matched set for a few years.  But then I found a reproduction Duncan-Phyfe table and four lyre-back chairs in a second-hand store, and I loved the chairs enough to buy the whole set.  In case you're interested, the lyre-back chair is almost synonymous with this Scottish-born furniture maker who made a name for himself in New York City during the first half of the 19th century.  He used the lyre shape on both chairs and tables.  It's almost impossible (and very expensive) to own an authentic piece of Duncan Phyfe furniture, but reproductions abound, especially in vintage pieces produced in the 1930s to 1950s.

At any rate, the second table and I parted ways when we left Oklahoma in 2000 (thanks to mom and dad for taking it off my hands!) but I took all ten chairs with us when we moved back to Tennessee that year.

The chairs in their original state - blah.
Several years ago, I revamped the formal dining and living areas of our current house. Ten chairs were about four too many for the small space. I discarded the original 6 dining room chairs (no groaning at my callousness, these were rickety and not terribly attractive, despite my efforts to gussy them up - check out the photo to the left.  No amount of crackle paint and pretty cushions could transform them into graceful, sturdy chairs.)

Once the old chairs were gone, I purchased two parsons chairs for the ends of the table instead of trying to match the foursome.  So my chairs remain mismatched, by choice.

Fast-forward to now.  My beloved lyre-back chairs have had the same 1990s green fabric for a long time.  Too long.  The color scheme for the new dining room is a mineral blue and mocha brown.  But instead of going for a sedate fabric in brown or blue, my heart hankered for a jolt of color and a trellis pattern to echo the rug destined for the new dining room.

"Imperial Trellis" in Citrine 
When I spotted this popular (and expensive) fabric designed by Kelly Wearstler for Shumacher, I knew I had to have something similar. It's a gorgeous fabric, but if you go in search of it as I did, be prepared for sticker shock - it retails for around $175 a yard.  To cover dining chairs you don't need much, but it was still more than I wanted to spend.  (I love the fabric but I'm not marrying it, you know?)

It took me a while to convince a friend (with impeccable taste and an artist's eye for colors) that I could make key lime work in this color scheme.  Or maybe she just relented and decided to let me do what I wanted to do all along.  Either way I appreciate her input and advice.

With her help, I interviewed several fabric swatches, holding up one of the new drape panels behind to determine the level of conflict between the green and blue:

And eventually chose "Felton" in kiwi (it's made by Croscill, if you're looking for it): 

Even better, I found these wood folding chairs made by Stakmore and sold in pairs (Linens n Things had the best price and free - and fast! - shipping), and they are very similar to my lyre-back chairs. That means I can easily pull up two more chairs when needed and store them in the coat closet when I don't.  And yes, I am covering them in the same trellis fabric as the other chairs, so while the chairs may still be mismatched, they will all have the same fabric on their seats.

So there you have it - my story of musical chairs.  Pictures of the new dining room are coming soon...stay tuned!

Happy decorating!

Apr 15, 2011

Ta-da! My to-do's are now da-da-da-DONE

We're down to less than a week until we close on the new house. While waiting, there's only so much you can do - you can't pack everything when you aren't going to move for a few more weeks. (Well, I guess I could pack it ALL up, but that would hamper our ability to eat, dress, and take showers and baths. No bueno.)

However, I set out some to-do's for myself for this week, and I'm proud to say they are now moved to the "done" column:
  1. Drapes for the dining room (they're here already!)
  2. Drapes for bedroom (they're on their way!)
  3. Drapery hardware for bedroom and dining room windows (snagged the rods at half-price, to boot! Woot!)
  4. Tile for the shower - picked out and ready to be picked up.
  5. Paint colors for the dining room walls and ceiling.  (Have rollers, brushes and rags ready to go.)
  6. Fabric for dining room chairs is picked out; just need to order it soon.
  7. Coat closet is cleaned out; linen closet is slated for purging today.
  8. Shower curtain for upstairs bathroom.  (Bonus: also have fabric for new window seat cushion.)
  9. Carpet stretching is lined up for the day after closing.
  10. Insurance is ready to go into effect.
Next week, I'll offload the bookshelves and box those items up, and help my beloved offspring prepare their closets for moving along with a few more pre-move tasks.

Happy Friday!

Apr 13, 2011

Recipe of the Week: Ranch Noodles

Disclaimer:  unlike the vast majority of recipes I post here, this is not a hands-down favorite among my family.  In fact, the yeas and nays split along gender lines, and the male members of my family don't care for this side dish as a rule.  However, *I* like it, and so does swimmer girl when she's carb-ing up during swim season.  Occasionally I throw out a cook's prerogative card and make it, despite the less-than-stellar reviews it generates from my family.

I think it pairs particularly well with Garlic-Lime Chicken, and the creaminess nicely balances any piquancy from the peppery rub.

Creamy Ranch Noodles

1 package (8 ounces) fettuccine noodles
1/4 cup unsalted butter
1/2 cup sour cream or plain Greek yogurt
1/3 cup ranch dressing (I prefer Hidden Valley Ranch in this, but a store brand will do in a pinch)
1/2 cup fresh coarse grated Parmesan cheese
Coarsely  ground pepper


In medium to large saucepan bring water to a boil, add salt and noodles; boil until al dente (usually about 12-14 minutes).  When noodles are done, drain and rinse.  In large bowl, combine remaining ingredients except pepper.  Add well-drained noodles and stir to coat; cheese will become soft and a little stringy.  Sprinkle with pepper to taste.

Serve warm. makes 4-6 servings.  Leftovers can be reheated gently, but they aren't as good the second time around.

Happy cooking!

Apr 12, 2011

Out of the closet

Oh my. The stuff I found while digging deep into the small-but-bottomless coat closet. Well, for better or worse, it is (or was) all out of the closet and sorted.

The toss pile started with a lot of old gift wrap. (Most of it was brought with when we moved here in 2000. WHY I moved it is beyond me...a few were end-of-rolls even then. Geesh.)

Also gone are the old Christmas cards. Reallllyyyyy old cards. I kept last year's cards (it helps me double-check my list next year. And then - I solemnly promise in front of God and everybody - they'll be tossed, too.)

And half-used, dog-eared old notebooks and pencil nubs without erasers. (Who puts this stuff in a closet?)

Gone are all the widows and orphans in the mitten tub. Which means we're now mittenless for next year because there were no mates in the tub.

The giveaway/sell pile.   Several cute (but just not me) girly gifty things, probably from those wild Bunco parties. Spa slippers, lotions, tea lights...  They're all destined for our church's Missions with Mommy ministry, which makes up gift baskets for our older shut-ins.

Unused coats and jackets are likewise going to a ministry that gives away coats each fall. We can't wear more than one coat at a time, and the coats I'm giving away have not been worn in at least a couple years. Far better to let them bless and warm a stranger's body next winter than hang here, unused and useless to us.

A small stack of sell-able items are ready to put on the upcoming garage sale.  I'm on a roll and if I'm going to have to throw it or haul it to Goodwill, I'd rather do that now than later.   So the garage sale stack is limited to things that I really think are likely to sell.

The "going elsewhere" pile:
  • A small stack of usable school supply items is destined for swimmer girl's new room since she's the only one who will use this stuff. 
  • Two organizers - one will go to my new office, the other one to Mr. Official's soon-to-be office in his man cave.
  • A box of picture frames I'm sending to the attic for future use. 
  • Two tubs with school pictures, wedding photos, and a few other pictures that I don't have copied in albums somewhere around here.  (I even dug through the never-opened end table and culled through the pictures and albums in those areas.)  They're semi-organized and headed for the new attic.
The remaining items now comprise a small, elite group - just a few coats, now on sturdy, new matching hangers.  (I figure if I limit the number of hangers, we'll limit the number of coats that accumulate.)  And a half-dozen clear tubs filled with:
  • scarves and hats
  • emergency gifts
  • gift bags, tissue paper and curling ribbon
  • Christmas cards, stationery, to-do list and last year's cards
  • seasonal colored candles, and the January-September front door decorations.  (They could go in the attic, but the candles would melt and I'm more likely to use the decorations if they're near the front door.  Otherwise, my Easter door decoration might still be up until the fall wreath comes out.)
Whew. I now declare that chore done.   Mission accomplished.  Finis.

I promised some photos, and although I am completely embarrassed by this "before" shot:
This is why you NEVER open closets in someone else's house.

I am pretty pumped about the after-effect ("Hi, my name is Terry and I am a transformation junkie.")
No special effects - this is really all that's left in there.
This closet is now ready to receive its marching orders in a couple weeks. On to the linen closet.

Happy closet-cleaning!

Apr 11, 2011

Clearing out the cobwebs

Our coat closet is one of my biggest cleaning enemies

(Hmmm.  Have you ever noticed how "nemesis" is almost a perfect anagram of "enemies"?)

This closet - like the other storage closets in our home - is not large, but it is a convenient catch-all: old photographs and negatives (yeah, negatives), spare birthday and shower gifts for emergency situations, school supplies, front door seasonal decorations, and of course, coats, scarves, mittens and hats.  It hasn't been completely emptied since I painted it..many years ago.  Until today.  This morning, I will face the mess I can see and whatever lurks beneath.  As much as I dread it, it's time.  I refuse to mindlessly move these things to the next home without culling out everything that doesn't belong here and isn't loved, oft-used or otherwise absolutely needed.

I'm hoping the actual cleaning will be less dreadful than the anticipation of it.  Sometimes we put things off, and let them build up to overwhelming, seemingly insurmountable obstacles in our minds.  I think I have a few mental closets that could also stand to be emptied out and cleared of some useless stuff I've held onto for far too long.  The multi-tasker in me wonders if I can do both simultaneously.  It's worth a try.  If all goes well, the linen closet is next.  Same song, second verse.

If I'm brave, I'll show before and after pics of both later this week.  (Posting them might shame me into not letting any new closets get to this level of messiness.)

Happy clearing,

Apr 8, 2011

Strategic Moves

When faced with a massive project like moving four people and years of stuff from one house to another, where do you start?

Logic says with the end in mind, of course.  Last week I started strategizing every aspect of the move that I could think of, so it will go as smoothly and easily as possible.

Step 1: Compile a list of to-do's.  Or - in my case - stop chasing my tail and start writing stuff down.

Step 2: Set a final deadline. Ideally, we'd like to be moved into our new home no later than May 8 - just over two weeks after we close.  That may sound like a lot of time, but trust me - there's a lot of stuff to move.

Step 3: Prioritize all those to-do's and give each of them a date.  It's a good thing Microsoft Excel is my friend. I've compiled a rather lengthy (okay massive) list of detailed things to remember and do to get us moved in and living in our new abode.  And that list doesn't even begin to touch the bulk of the stuff stored in the attic or shed.  Egads.  There is definitely a garage/yard sale in our future.

Step 4:  Reconnaissance.  I poked around the garage during the home inspection and unearthed leftover tiles from the master bathroom. In the box.  Move over Charlie Sheen, I'm winning now.  That half-full box of tiles will make it much easier to plan the shower re-do.

It looks like this now but our plans include something a little snazzier, so we got some bids.  The contractor we chose to install the tile looked at the pics and quickly figured out he did the original tile work in the house.  Anybody wanna hum "It's a Small World" with me?)

He's lined up to start the last week of April - perfect timing, so my next to-do is to see if we can locate the same (or similar) tile and have this project ready to start on time.

I also found labeled paint cans in the garage.  Bless the former owner's hearts - their thoughtfulness made another project infinitely easier, too.  To paint the master bedroom I just need to match the bathroom color, which is a taupe-y, greige color.

(Sidenote:  it took me a while to figure out "greige" is a legitimate word, meaning mixture of grey/gray and beige.  To all the designers tossing "greige" around, do you really think it is easier to pronounce and/or spell than taupe?  Or less subjective? Taupe is defined as brownish-gray, and greige is defined as grayish-brown.  Hmmmm.)

Whatever you call it, I like the bathroom color and it is similar to the color in our bedroom now.  So why reinvent the wheel by agonizing over dozens of oh-so-similar paint colors to choose the "perfect" color, which is ultimately going to be almost identical to this one?

And to keep things simple, the second bedroom is getting treated to this color, too.  The bonus room will probably also be painted the same hue.  Swimmer girl's bedroom is going to share color with the dining room, which is going from brick red to milk chocolate brown. (The bedroom will also get a jolt of raspberry, either on a wall or the dormer nook...not sure which yet.)

Painting those five rooms is the only DIY project to tackle before we can move in. (Remember, one of my goals was to buy a house that needed virtually no renovation work.  This home delivered perfectly on that requirement.)  The only other to-do's to get done before moving are getting the carpets stretched and cleaned, both of which I'm leaving up to the professionals.

Step 5: While we wait.  Next week I'll go through closets, culling out things to sell, give away or throw away, and readying the other contents to be moved, then emptying bookcases and cabinets. 

Any tips or pointers?  I could use them!  When it gets really quiet, I hear a clock, quickly ticking down the final days and hours until the moving frenzy begins. 

Happy strategizing,

Apr 6, 2011

Recipe of the Week: Miss JoAnn's Lemon Bars

A while back, I posted a recipe for Parker House Rolls, which was shared by a very gracious lady from South Carolina. Another "keeper" recipe of hers is this one - it's a family favorite that seems most fitting in the warm months of the year. One word of advice: these bars are very rich, so cut them small for serving.

Miss JoAnn's Lemon Bars

Crust Ingredients
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup powdered sugar
1/2 cup butter

Filling Ingredients
2 eggs
1 cup sugar
1/8 cup flour + 2 tablespoons
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 cup lemon juice

Heat oven to 350.  Sift together flour and powdered sugar.  Cut in butter (it can be slightly softened, but it shouldn't be room temperature) until crumbly.  Press in bottom of 8x8 pan (I like lining mine with parchment to make it easier to lift and cut these bars.)  Bake at 350 for 20 minutes or until brown.

In the meantime, beat eggs until frothy, add sugar and incorporate well. Whisk in flour and baking powder until there are no lumps. Add lemon juice and stir thoroughly.  Pour over crust as soon as you remove it from the oven.

Return to the oven for another 25 minutes or until the filling is just set (it will still be soft.)  Sprinkle with powdered sugar and let cool completely before cutting.  (Or cut warm and enjoy them while they're still gooey.)

Note:  Store the bars at room temperature for up to a day, or in the refrigerator to keep them fresh longer.  You can also double this recipe and bake in a 10x15 pan.  I've even quadrupled it and baked it in a parchment-lined jelly roll pan.

Happy baking,

Apr 5, 2011

Moving: Past the hurdles

We're now down to two weeks and two days to have a new home-sweet-home to call home. 

Inspection? Check.

Appraisal? Also check.

The two big hurdles were cleared with room to spare.  Getting termite and septic certificates from the sellers and choosing an insurance company are pretty much the only outstanding items for the underwriters to give us the all-clear and close on April 21.

Yes, that is correct.  It's not a typo, if you've been paying attention to the dates.  We've gone from April 25 to April 22, now to April 21.  If we keep it up, we'll be careening into an even-earlier closing date some time next week before we know it.  Just kidding. Really - please, no earlier than this newest date.

Happy hurdle-clearing,

Apr 4, 2011

The "right" way to clean house?

Is housecleaning like algebra?  One right answer, and only one way to get there?

Setting aside Flylady's methodology (do a little every day, focus on one room each week to gradually get it clean through and through), I am curious:  how do we decide the "best" way to clean a house? And why do we think that's the best way?

I am not convinced there's only one "right" way to clean a house or a room.  But I agree with the principle that some ways are more effective and/or efficient.

Personally, I am a room-by-room cleaner.  I guess I could dust the entire house, then vacuum the entire house, then mop the kitchen and bathroom floors, then deliver lightbulbs and extra toilet paper where needed, but why make all those passes over the same terrain?  Is it efficient?  Probably.  Is it effective? That depends on how you define effective.

I confess I am a transformation junkie:  I like seeing a room (or closet or drawer or cabinet or refrigerator) totally cleaned and organized before I move to the next target zone.  Getting one area clean motivates me to tackle the next one. So my method has effectiveness going for it, but I'm not sure how it ranks on the efficiency scale: I find myself carrying an arsenal of supplies with me as I make my way through the house.  My typical entourage includes:
  • the vacuum and the microfiber duster with the telescoping handle to get under the beds and couches;
  • a plastic tote full of bathroom cleansers and scrub brushes, disinfecting air sanitizers, furniture polish (allergen-reducing and multisurface) and LOTS of clean rags and microfiber cloths (yes, it's a big tote);
  • paper towels and Windex and a magic eraser for smudges;
  • extra trashcan liners, lightbulbs and spare rolls of toilet paper
That's a lot of stuff to haul around, but I do because I'd rather not scurry back-and-forth to the laundry room every time I need one of these items.  Efficient?  Or effective?  All I know is it works for me.

In our single-story house, I start at one end - usually our bathroom and work my way to the other.  If i get sidetracked, a same-day re-start is highly unlikely, so I block out enough time to knock it all out in one fell swoop. I've also learned from FlyLady some tips on not getting sidetracked.  Major closet cleanouts or desk organizing are tactical missions and I don't attempt them on a whole-house cleaning campaign. I don't want to get bogged down in one room and not have the time or energy to finish the rest of the house.

In each room, I start to the left or right of the door and work my way around the room.  I know I probably should clean top-to-bottom:  dust first, vacuum last - but I don't always do that.  Sometimes I vacuum, dust, then vacuum a final time.  With two long-haired pets and a family with allergies, my Dyson, microfiber cloths and dusters, and allergen-reducing furniture polish are my cleaning day BFFs.

The wet areas (kitchen and baths) are handled differently.  I spray the toilet to start it soaking, then start with the least-dirty area and move to the most-dirty areas:  sinks, shower, then toilet, buff them down and clean the mirrors, change lightbulbs, replenish the toilet paper, remove trash, sanitize the trashcan, add a liner, then finish with a hand-mopping of the floor.

The kitchen starts with a sink full of hot, soapy, bleachy water in which I soak the sink mats, strainers, and dog bowls.  When they're clean, I run a fresh sink of hot soapy water and wipe down everything, clean the oven, straighten drawers, remove smudge prints, and otherwise clean.  Mopping sometimes coincides with the rest of the cleaning, other times it is an independent operation that occurs randomly on quiet afternoons.

All the while I'm cleaning, I'm also running the washer and dryer.  It's nice to have a break every hour or so to stop and fold a load, and start another one going.  By the time the house is done, the laundry is usually close to being finished.  Final step is to clean the Dyson so it can air dry until the next use.

When we had our first few apartments, cleaning and laundry took a couple hours.  With each larger home, more time has been required.  Now it takes pretty much my entire Saturday to thoroughly clean this house from one end to the other (not counting the kids' rooms since they are old enough to clean - or not - their own space.)  And we're buying a larger house?  Hmmmm.  Do they come in self-cleaning models these days?

So how do you clean your house? Tips? Advice? Ideas?  Share, please!  'Cuz I'm going to need them soon!

Happy cleaning,

Apr 1, 2011

Moving: Another step in the right direction

The home inspection yesterday went well after a slightly scary start - the house had been winterized, and all the spigots were wide open, even the refrigerator's water line for the ice maker and the washer connections in the laundry room. Fortunately, we requested to have the water remain off at the meter when the utility company unlocked it, so when the home inspector turned on the water, the agent and I were in the house and realized what was going on before it turned disastrous. Otherwise, we could have walked into a flood that rivaled last May's 500-year-flood levels. (Note to self: don't feel obligated to open all the spigots when you turn off the water. And don't use THAT company to winterize anything.)


The home we're buying was officially deemed to be in very good condition, well-built with only a few minor repairs needed. The structure, plumbing, wiring and the mechanicals are in fine working order. That's a big sigh of relief, considering it has set empty for close to half a year now. And that's a big hurdle out of the way.

Was it set in Hooterville or Hootersville?
I actually twirled in the den after we finished the inspection. It was a brief moment of giddiness, followed by watching emus run across the neighboring field, along with a rambunctious calf who nearly knocked down the big cows in his hurry to get to the front of the line.  It must have been dinner time at the farm next door.  No sign of Arnold the pig yet, but he may show up one of these days..in the meantime we've spotted sheep, goats chickens, ducks and horses.  Come to think of it, I guess our tale does resemble the misadventures of Oliver and Lisa Douglas - although I'm not a glamorous, blonde Hungarian socialite and Mr. Official is not an attorney.  And we're not from NYC, even though we do like to visit the Big Apple.  But I digress.

The next hurdle to cross is the appraisal; here's hoping we don't run into any snags with it, either. Once the appraisal is finished, the rest of the paper chase is in the hands of the mortgage company, title company and the real estate agents.

Happy moving,